PENGUIN INDIA | PAGES: 312
In a damning indictment of CBI’s investigation into the sensational Aarushi murder case, a new book Aarushi by Avirook Sen published by Penguin Books, raises disturbing questions about delivery of justice.
When the only Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma was asked by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi how India looked from outer space, Sharma replied, “Saare Jahan se Achha” (It’s a diamond in the sky). This book, writes the author in his introduction, is about what it looks like from the ground. If not a commentary on the country, the book certainly highlights the ham-handed ways in which investigations are conducted and trials are held.
It’s not a crime thriller. It’s a painstaking journalistic work that reconstructs how a teenager was killed in her own bedroom and how the trial court decided that it was ‘honour killing’ by her parents , the dentist couple Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, who had allegedly found their domestic help Hemraj in her bed.
The best part of the book are conversations the author has with the judge, CBI officials, key witnesses, forensic scientists and even the Talwars ‘after their conviction’ in November, 2013. But while the author succeeds in building up a strong case to suspect that justice was not done while holding the parents guilty, a glaring omission is the failure to talk to the three domestic help and assistants, who were also suspects at one stage.
In an otherwise gripping narrative, the omission is unfortunate because the author reproduces at some length what the trio confessed during tests in forensic labs. They were subjected to tests separately and at three different labs, one in Bangalore, one in Mumbai and the third in Gandhinagar. The fact that all the three statements matched substantially should have been enough to cast a strong shadow of doubt on them.
For example, one of them confessed that he had a crush on the teenaged daughter of the Talwars. Another confessed that Hemraj had told them not to take liberties with the girl because she was like his daughter. All the three agreed that they were together with Hemraj around midnight. Two of them even admitted to the rape and murder and provided details of the murder weapon, a Khukri, which was then recovered by the CBI following a search of the room one of them lived in at Noida.
Dr Amita Shukla, Behavioural scientist at Gandhinagar who had conducted tests on the couple as well as the domestic helps, recalls a visit by the Assistant Superintendent of Police, CBI, AGL Kaul. She asked Kaul why the test results (which is not admissible as evidence) were not even produced in court to allow the judge to draw conclusions. She remembers Kaul laughing and telling her, “Madam, if we had placed all your tests on record, the case would have turned upside down”.
K.K. Gautam, a retired policeman and a key prosecution witness who deposed that he had discovered the body of Hemraj on the terrace two days after the crime was committed, told the author that CBI’s theory was ‘stupid’. Had Hemraj been killed in Arushi’s bedroom, he said, there was no way his blood and DNA traces could be removed. On the contrary he himself had noticed signs of enough blood on the terrace to indicate that the man had been killed there. It required four policemen, he recalled, to lift the body. Hemraj was both healthy and heavily built.
The book is also a damning indictment of India’s premier investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and one of the key investigators, Additional Superintendent of Police, CBI, AGL Kaul. The ASP passed away in September last year, 10 months after he secured the conviction of the Talwars. But in view of the disclosures made in the book, the agency needs to urgently address a few questions such as the following.
Did AGL Kaul go out of his way to frame the Talwars ?
Kaul refused to look at any clue or evidence that indicated innocence of the parents and guilt of the domestic helps. He created a creepy email in the name of the deceased domestic help Hemraj ([email protected]) to correspond with the Talwars . And after the Talwars were convicted he told Dr Amita Shukla at the Forensic Lab in Gandhinagar, “Madam, if we had placed all your tests on record, the case would have turned upside down.” Finally, in 2012 when the CBI concluded that there was not strong enough evidence against Talwars and asked Kaul to file a closure report, he took his time and filed a charge sheet against the Talwars, mentioning that though the agency was convinced of their guilt, it had not been able to collect enough evidence. The trial court refused to accept the unusual ‘closure report’ and directed the CBI to file a proper charge sheet after investigation.
What was Kaul’s reputation within the CBI?
The book quotes CBI officials including Arun Kumar, DIG, CBI confirming that Kaul had consistently figured in the agency’s ODI list of “Officers of Doubtful Integrity”. Like many policemen, he appeared to have been fond of using strong-arm tactics, threats etc.
Why would Kaul go after the Talwars to the extent of framing them?
The book provides a clue. It seems within days of taking over the investigation he had had an altercation with the Talwars. And Mrs Nupur Talwar had called him a ‘liar’. It seems Kaul had claimed that the body of Aarushi was covered with a white sheet when it was detected, a claim that was contested by Mrs Talwar. When Kaul declared that he could get “thirty witnesses” to say it was white, the book claims, she told him that either he or his witnesses were liars.
Is there any corroborative evidence against to suggest Kaul was capable of fabricating or tampering with evidence?
The book cites two other cases supervised by Kaul and in both the cases he is accused of cooking up evidence. In the first case in Chhattisgarh, the CBI accused Ajit Jogi’s son Amit Jogi to have conspired with others in a hotel room to kill a local NCP leader Ram Avtar Jagga. While Amit Jogi spent a year in jail, the case fell through because several of the accused managed to prove that they were actually travelling abroad during the period.
More seriously, in the sensational Shehla Masood murder case in Bhopal, CBI’s case, the book suggests, is on the verge of collapsing because the transcript Kaul produced before the court turned out to be substantially different from the recording.
What was the role of the CBI directors?
*Vijay Shankar, director, CBI retired two months after the agency was handed over the investigation. The author met him in NOIDA after the Talwars were convicted. And this is what he said, “This is one of the most unfortunate cases, one in which the cause of justice has not been served as yet. I’ll say that”.
- His successor Ashwani Kumar was convinced of the guilt of the parents even before the investigations had concluded. He withdrew the team headed by Arun Kumar and reconstituted the team which finally secured the conviction of the Talwars. The fact that the Director, CBI wanted the investigation to proceed in a particular direction may also have influenced the investigating team.
- Ashwani Kumar’s successor A.P. Singh reviewed the case and the review meeting concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to charge sheet the Talwars. It was at this review meeting that the decision was taken to file a closure report. Kaul, who was also present at the meeting, thought otherwise.
The Talwars spent their 25th wedding anniversary in jail last December. Their plea for bail was turned down by the Allahabad high court. When their lawyers pleaded for bail, pointing out that they had been model citizens and an affectionate father, a high court judge icily and insensitively retorted that they wouldn’t be able to kill another child of their own as they had none left. Their appeal remains pending before the high court, which is seized with appeals dating back to the mid-eighties.